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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

15 Hard-Knock Facts About Annie

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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Little Orphan Annie has been a part of American pop culture for nearly a century now—first as a comic strip which made its debut in the summer of 1924, then as a popular radio show in the 1930s, which spun off into a couple of film productions later in that decade and a hit Broadway musical in 1977. Though the musical version has been adapted to the big-screen a few times over the years, most recently in 2014, the 1982 version—starring Aileen Quinn as the titular orphan—is the best known big-screen version. On the 35th anniversary of its release, here are some things you might not have known about Annie.

1. AT THE TIME, IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MUSICAL EVER MADE.

Though the final budget varies from source to source, most agree that it cost about $40 million to produce Annie, with a large part of that budget (about $9.5 million) spent on buying the rights to the popular 1977 Broadway play the film was based on. There were also the not insubstantial costs of advertising the film and producing prints, which, according to a 1982 edition of the Los Angeles Hollywood Examiner, were around $9 million. Unfortunately, the movie’s revenue didn’t even come close to recouping its expenses.

2. THE CREATOR OF THE ANNIE MUSICAL HATED THE MOVIE.

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Martin Charnin, conceiver, director, and lyricist of the Broadway hit, had nothing good to say about what producer Ray Stark and director John Huston did to his play. When he sold the rights, he relinquished all creative control. The result, Charnin told the Hartford Courant, was this: “Warbucks, played by Albert Finney, 'was an Englishman who screamed.' Hannigan, played by Carol Burnett, was 'a man-crazy drunk.' And Annie was 'cute-ed up.' Worse, the emotional relationship between Annie and Warbucks was distorted. They even downplayed the hit song "Tomorrow'' because 'Stark thought it was corny.'"

3. JOHN HUSTON WAS HIRED TO DIRECT BECAUSE OF HIS SIMILARITIES TO DADDY WARBUCKS.

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If you wanted darkness, grit, and intrigue in your film, you got John Huston to direct it. The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Beat the Devil, ... Annie? Huston was an odd choice, but producer Stark insisted. To Stark, the grizzled, then-76-year-old director was the embodiment of Daddy Warbucks, the gruff billionaire who shouts, “I love money, I love capitalism! I do not and will not ever love children!” (Of course there is also the rumor that Huston only agreed to do such a far-flung project because he was desperate for money.)

4. ALBERT FINNEY WAS HARDLY THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY DADDY WARBUCKS.

While Bette Midler was the first choice to play Miss Hannigan (a role that went to Carol Burnett), there were many actors ahead of Albert Finney on the Daddy Warbucks lineup. Finney had Hollywood experience, but the stage was more his realm. Reportedly, Sean Connery was approached, but didn’t want to appear bald. Even Cary Grant, who would have been in his late 70s at the time and hadn’t made a movie since 1966, was asked.

5. “EASY STREET" WAS ORIGINALLY A HUGE, OUTDOOR NUMBER.

The first incarnation of the show-stopping “Easy Street” was literally performed in a street, with the three enthralling villains of the film—Miss Hannigan (Burnett), Rooster (Tim Curry), and Lily (Bernadette Peters), displaying their joyous greed against a backdrop of dozens of dancing street vendors. After it was shot, Huston decided it wasn’t intimate enough and, more importantly, the setting distracted from the three enormous personalities at the center of it. Burnett, Curry, and Peters were more interesting to watch just by themselves than in a whole studio full of performers. (You can see some grainy bits from the original version here.)

6. THE RE-SHOOT OF "EASY STREET" WAS MILDLY COMPLICATED BY BURNETT'S CHIN SURGERY.

After primary shooting, Carol Burnett underwent surgery to correct her overbite and align her jaw. When she was called back to re-shoot “Easy Street,” she had a new face.  As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, she told her director about her concerns. "Mr. Huston," she remembered saying, "Two months ago, when I went into the closet, I didn't have a chin."

"Dear," he responded, "just come out looking determined."

7. NEW JERSEY'S GOVERNOR SIGNED A LAW TO ALLOW CHILDREN IN THE CAST TO WORK AT NIGHT.

Annie’s climactic scene was partly shot on the Passaic River’s NX railroad drawbridge, which had been abandoned in the raised position in 1977. The scene called for Annie to climb the bridge like a ladder with Rooster following in a murderous rage. All of this took place in the dead of night, and New Jersey's child labor laws prohibited children employed in making films from working after 11:30 p.m. and before 7 a.m. More night hours would be needed to complete the shoot, and the state government was accommodating, with Governor Brendan Byrne helicoptering to the set to sign a bill amending the law, which now allows the Commissioner of Education “the authority to amend the hours of the day during which a minor may work but not the total hours.”

8. THERE WERE AROUND 500 DIFFERENT PRODUCT TIE-INS FOR THE FILM.

Annie’s merchandising began three years before the film was released. Producer Ray Stark knew that the whole world was anticipating his movie, and he intended to use that interest toward a licensing boom. Tie-ins included contracts with Crayola, Random House, Marriott hotels, Sears Roebuck & Co., Knickerbocker Toys, Procter & Gamble, and Ken-L-Ration dog food. The products would include umbrellas, wigs, lunch boxes, dog accessories, a Parker Brothers board game, a line of Marvel Comics, Annie ice cream, Annie cookies, Annie designer jeans, and hundreds more.

9. AROUND 8000 GIRLS AUDITIONED TO PLAY ANNIE.

Two years before the film version, Aileen Quinn was in the Broadway production of Annie. She was a “swing orphan,” meaning she was trained to play any of the orphans except Annie (who, at the start of Quinn’s tenure, was Sarah Jessica Parker). Auditions for the film began in 1980 and took an entire year.

The casting director had a clever way to speed the process along, according to PBS's “Lights, Camera, Annie!” Annie hopefuls lined up and each girl sang a part of “Tomorrow,” with the next girl picking up where the last left one off. Quinn was called back eight times until the production team was totally convinced she was the perfect combination of grit and sweetness. “I was completely in shock," Quinn remembered. "I didn’t believe it until the casting agent showed me the production schedule, and I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s when I believed it!"

10. FINNEY HAD LITTLE EXPERIENCE WITH SONG AND DANCE.

Finney was a trained Shakespearean stage actor and widely regarded for his dramatic roles. He’d only ever sang and danced once before in a performance, in the 1970 musical Scrooge. As a crotchety Scrooge, his singing and dancing came out more like cleverly inflected growls and splay-footed leaps. Annie didn’t require him to become Baryshnikov with the voice of Pavarotti, but it did call for ballad singing and a tap dance routine.

"One of my favorite memories of him is [Albert] learning to really sing for the first time," Quinn said. "He did that beautiful version of 'Maybe' ... As he was taking singing lessons on the set, I can remember him with a cigar out of his mouth and going 'la la la la la la la,' pause, 'la la la la la la la.'" This, plus Finney’s habit of putting bottle caps under his loafers to practice his tap routine, thoroughly charmed the 10-year-old Quinn. "He was, like, in it to win it ... so adorable."

11. THE WARBUCKS MANSION WAS A REAL HOUSE, BUT ONLY BRIEFLY.

It was hard to find the right place for Oliver Warbucks to call home. Many of the grandest homes of the Gilded Age had been turned into museums, and the others had been overly featured in other movies and on television. Then Huston found Shadow Lawn, a 130-room New Jersey palace built in 1927 for Hubert Templeton Parson, the then-president of Woolworths. It was designed by Horace Trumbauer and his assistant Julian Abele, considered by some to be the first African American architect in America.

Within 10 years, Parson went broke and his home was appropriated by the city. After that, according to The New York Times, it served as a military academy, a military hospital, and a school for girls, but never again as a private home. In the 1950s, Monmouth College bought the mansion and its 108 acres, and it remains a part of the school's campus today.

12. AILEEN QUINN USED TO TEACH AT THE UNIVERSITY THAT OWNS THE “WARBUCKS” MANSION.

Years after filming her performance in Annie, Quinn returned to the scence of her childhood stardom when she began teaching at Monmouth University. According to a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

"A couple years before I started teaching, I went there for a big fundraiser to help them raise money for education. So I went back for the first time and actually got very emotional. It’s that staircase that does it. After I gave my speech they had me go up the stairs and I sang “Tomorrow." That was so surreal. I was walking down that staircase again, and even though they had tables set up for the gala, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my god, that’s where I karate chopped and that’s where I was on his shoulders.” I actually was flashing back, and that got our wheels spinning: this is an obvious match. There were some conversations afterwards and they asked if I would be interested in teaching, and I said I would actually love that. Next thing I knew, I was teaching a theater course. 

13. THE "ORIGINAL" ANNIE MOVIE WAS NOT THE FIRST BIG-SCREEN INCARNATION OF THE LITTLE ORPHAN.

As even the most casual fan of A Christmas Story knows, Annie was a radio program before it was a movie (and she wanted you to drink your Ovaltine). But that wasn’t even close to the beginning of America’s relationship with the sassy Little Orphan Annie. The original Annie as we know her appeared in a comic strip started in 1924 by Harold Gray. It was going to be “Little Orphan Otto,” but a friend convinced Gray to change it based on James Whitcomb Riley’s even older 1885 poem “Little Orphant Annie,” which in turn was based on a real orphan child living with the Riley family, Mary Alice Smith.

The comic strip ran for decades and limped along for about 40 more years after Gray’s death. Annie of the comics was Nancy Drew crossed with Dick Tracy; she spent a lot of her time fighting Nazis and uncovering communist plots. And those round, empty eye sockets? Those were on purpose, according to Gray. “The blank eyeballs served to enhance reader involvement with the strip: not seeing what is going on in the eyes of the characters, readers could impose their own fears and concerns into the narrative.”

In the 1930s, two Annie adventure movies were made. The Broadway play released in 1977 was the most successful incarnation of Annie since her days of being shot at by gangsters. It was followed by the 1982 movie, a made-for-television remake in 1999, and a 2014 reboot.

14. 10-YEAR-OLD AILEEN QUINN WON BOTH A RAZZIE AND A BEST YOUNG ARTIST FILM AWARD FOR HER PERFORMANCE.

It is indicative of how puzzled people were with Annie that they couldn’t decide if its tiny star was a prodigy or a freckle-faced misery. She was awarded the Razzie for Worst Actress in a lead role, but took home a Best Young Artist Award, too. She also received a Golden Globe nomination.

15. TIM CURRY SIGNED ON FOR THE PART OF ROOSTER BECAUSE MUSICALS WERE SOME OF THE ONLY MOVIES HE WAS ALLOWED TO WATCH GROWING UP.

Tim Curry was the son of a Royal Navy Chaplain and a school secretary. He described his childhood as “strict,” and that fact might have had an effect on his career choices. During this unedited interview, a very bored, jet-lagged looking young Curry describes his desire to be in Annie“Long time ambition really, to do a Hollywood musical. [They] were one of the movies I was allowed to see. I had a very strict childhood, but Hollywood musicals were all right.” But wait, if you want to see a tiny flash of the man who brought Pennywise, Frank-n-Furter, and Darkness to life, skip to 3:30, where he describes his character, Rooster.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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